On Thursday afternoon, when we read the story of a 43-year-old Italian tourist name Graziano Graziussi being arrested and jailed after forgetting his wallet before going out to dine at upscale steakhouse Smith & Wollensky in New York, we were frankly a little dubious.
The story, as reported by Honest Cooking, the New York Daily News and the New York Post, was coherent and relatively plausible. Graziussi claimed that he'd forgotten his wallet at the hotel and that he offered to retrieve the wallet and leave his iPhone as collateral, but the restaurant refused, and instead called the cops on him. He was sent to jail over night before his case was dismissed by a judge the next morning.
We didn't know what, precisely, a restaurant manager would normally do in this situation -- though we were pretty sure that they wouldn't ask a customer to work the tab off by washing dishes, as they do on TV. Skipping out on a restaurant tab is punishable by a year in jail under New York law, so it didn't seem like such a far-fetched story.
The problem was that none of these first three reports included comment from Smith & Wollensky or any verification from onlookers at the scene. So they essentially took Graziussi at his word about how the whole incident happened.
HuffPost Food phoned Smith & Wollensky New York and the manager who answered the phone (who said his name was "John" but refused to give his last name) claimed not to have heard anything about the Graziussi incident at all, despite the fact that he was on duty at the steakhouse on Monday night until 11 p.m. When we did a little intensive Googling of the name "Graziano Graziussi," we found someone by that name who had gotten a Masters at Columbia and had contributed research to a paper on "the unpaid care economy." Such a person doesn't necessarily strike us as a wanton dine-and-dasher who would outright lie to the press, but the whole thing didn't add up.
Yet Smith & Wollensky New York's corporate owners Fourth Wall Restaurants refused to comment on the situation, despite numerous requests from HuffPost Food -- at least until Friday around 5:30 p.m..
Then the company issued a statement that indicated that, at the very least, there was another side to the story. Here's the full text:
We have been in business in New York City for over 35 years and normally, it is our policy to maintain our guests’ privacy on all matters. We do not contact the police in any matter involving our customers without significant cause. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly commented on the situation in his press conference this afternoon:
“Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the 43-year-old lawyer from Naples did have a wallet with $118, but refused to hand it over. Graziussi claimed not to speak English, but a patrol supervisor who responded to the scene was fluent in Italian and was able to translate. He conducted the interview and determined that the individual simply did not want to pay.”
The idea that Graziussi would have claimed not to speak English, especially if he's the Graziussi who studied at an American university, and then went on to conduct extensive interviews with multiple press outlets in English -- is particularly damning, and sounds just strange enough to be true.
We don't doubt that Graziussi's stay in jail was, as he told the Daily News, "horrible." We just aren't convinced that a man whom Ray Kelly said refused to pay for his steakhouse dinner, despite ample means, deserves a ton of sympathy.
CORRECTION: 1/28/13 12:00 pm -- A previous version of this article identified a Graziano Graziussi as having received a doctorate, rather than a master's, from Columbia University. HuffPost has not confirmed that they are the same individual.
UPDATE: 1/30/13 10:00 am -- Graziussi appeared in court Monday morning to settle his table, paying a total of $219.21, the New York Post reports. So it appears this saga is over. But not without consequences. The Post quoted a friend of Graziussi's, identified only as "Mario," who warned that no Italians will ever go to Smith & Wollensky again. The horror!